It only takes a small amount of water spilling onto floors from a faulty pipe, leaking water heater or an overflowing toilet to cause thousands of dollars in damage to your home or business. A study of closed insurance water damage claims by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) identifies leading causes of interior water damage and offers solutions for minimizing the risks.
Nearly half of all claims in the IBHS study resulted from faulty water pipes, making it the leading cause of interior water damage. Faulty pipe materials were the cause of damage in 65 percent of the claims and resulted in an average loss of $4,300. Frozen pipes accounted for 18 percent of claims in the study and, although they occurred less often, resulted in an average loss of more than $8,100.
Reducing your risk of damage begins by inspecting and then protecting your pipes, according to IBHS. Look for signs of corrosion or rust. Pinhole leaks can form when these conditions occur over time. If leaks occur in new pipes, IBHS found it is usually the result of improper installation and the areas around the connections and joints are most vulnerable to leaking.
Insulate pipes to reduce the risk of freezing, which can cause pressure to build up inside a pipe and result in bursting. IBHS found pipes located in the basement and in exterior walls are far more susceptible to freezing.
Preventing toilet failure
Toilet failure is the second leading cause of water damage, according to the IBHS study. One-third of the claims reviewed were caused by an overflowing toilet, which can lead to serious damage to floors and surrounding furniture and cabinetry. The average claim resulted in a loss of more than $5,500.
Newer homes were more likely to have a sudden toilet failure caused by a faulty supply line or fill valve, according to the IBHS study. Older homes were more likely to experience a slow, seeping leak, such as from failed drain lines or faulty seals.
The simplest way to prevent water damage from a toilet failure is to remain in or near the bathroom until the valve has finished refilling the tank and bowl. It’s important to remember not to continue flushing a clogged toilet and to shut off the supply valve at the first sign of an overflowing toilet.
Inspect components inside the toilet twice a year, including lifting the toilet tank lid to ensure the fill and flush valves are operating properly. Periodically check the supply line connection to make sure it’s secure. Close and open the supply valve to the toilet twice a year. Make sure it’s free of rust and operates smoothly. If not, replace it.
Pay attention to water running periodically in a toilet tank between uses. The most common problem is a leaking flush valve.
Maintaining washing machines and water heaters
Leaky washing machine hoses and water heaters were among the leading causes of water damage involving appliances in the IBHS study and losses ranged from $4,400 to $5,300. More than half of the claims involving washing machines were due to faulty hoses, while nearly seven out of 10 claims involving water heaters were due to leaking or bursting tanks.
Age also was a factor in water heater and washing machine hose performance. Failure rates increased after a washing machine was five years old, and nearly three-quarters of water heaters had failed by age 12, according to IBHS. On average, a washing machine hose failed at about eight years.
Have a plumbing professional inspect the water heater’s anode rod and flush sediment from the tank to help reduce the risk of damage. The anode rod should be inspected at least once every two years and at least annually after the warranty has expired.
Inspect washing machine hoses at least once a year. Replace hoses every five years with reinforced braided hoses, which will perform better than rubber hoses, according to IBHS. To further reduce the risk of failure, turn off the hot and cold water supply valves when the machine is not in use. Always turn off the valves if you will be away for several days.